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Michael’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 27 Jul 2006

Location: Paris, France

MapEntry 52 – Paris (21st July - 24th July)

Paris is an interesting story. From day 1, it was going to be my last stop on the way to London. Not necessarily because I wanted to go there, but because I had to go there. My cousin Ray, who I’ve met on only a handful of occasions, won a trip last year to see the end of this years Tour de France in Paris. From the minute he found out that I was going to be in Europe at the same time, he made it his mission to get me to Paris… not that it took much arm twisting. I have been interested in the tour, and figured I’d be heading to London at the end of July anyway, so why not head there from Paris, the nearest port of call… plus I would be staying in a 5-star hotel with a balcony overlooking the course for the last stage of the race... no worries, I'll be there.

Not knowing exactly where the hotel was, or how to work the Paris subway (which after using it is pretty good, definitely one of the better ones I’ve been on, similar to NYC) I finally made my way to the metro and headed to rue de Rivoli, the road that the hotel is on. Not sure how far along he rue the hotel was, I got off at the first stop, and found myself at 140 and the hotel was at 228…. Not too far, even with my monster heavy pack. But in Paris, numbers don’t mean much. I walked for three blocks, and figured I was getting close, only to look up and find myself at 148? What the? If there is only one door on the block, the number only goes up by one… non eof this 140-150 type issue you find in Australia.

After a whole lot of walking, not having slept all night, sweating my ass off with my back pack, I walk into one of the swankiest looking buildings I’ve ever been in. Walking in, I actually had the concierge peel my bag away from my back, and with a sloppy sounding thud, my sweat soaked t-shirt falls back onto my skin. Yum… He must have been wondering what the hell I was doing there, with all the other guests walking around in slacks and shirts (minimum). I was wondering the same thing.

I walked up to the desk and asked for Ray Jebsen, and get told that they were at the hotel, but had not gone to their room yet, as it wasn’t ready, and to check the lobby. Well, couldn’t find him, and made myself comfortable, then he came out from the bathroom…. Ahh, family reunion. Anyway, we head up to the room, and Kelly (the guy Ray brought with him on the trip) and Ray have to share a king size bed… at least for the day, it got changed later that evening. I had the roll out bed, and we all settled in for a power nap before heading off to Paris’ sights – it seems Ray and Kelly had a ‘hard’ flight over and weren’t feeling the best.

After a few hours nap, we head to the Eifel Tower, and are pleasantly surprised when we get there. I can’t believe it was so big, however, the top deck was closed, and the line to get to the 2nd deck was looking more ominous than the old queues at the Boxing Day sales in Melbourne Myer. Without getting to the top, we weren’t game to wait, and figured we’d head for dinner. As we walked away, the lights came on at the tower, and it was a truly spectacular looking building.

We headed to the Trocedero, the round-about just north of the Eifel Tower, which has a road running directly to the Arc de Triomphe. We found a restaurant that had a set meal for €28, the most expensive meal I had eating in longer than I can remember, and I dove straight into the French culture and ordered the snails! The main was a steak and for dessert I had a nice cold crème brulee. It was a great meal, but the beers at €9 a go were a bit ridiculous. The snails actually tasted really good. They were pre shelled (I had no idea what to expect) and cooked in a garlic butter. They were a bit chewy, but not in a bad way… and almost tasted like chicken!

From there we headed to the Arc de Triomphe, and again I had no idea just how big it would be. It is at the centre of a round about that has 12 different streets coming into it, and the traffic looked like an absolute nightmare. Thank-god we weren’t driving there. I did however think to myself that there is every possibilty of actually running from the outside of the round about to the centre, despite all warning, and the most dangerous thing would be the menacing looking police and security patrolling the area.

We jumped back on the Metro and headed back towards the hotel and headed to an Irish pub we'd walked past earlier in the day. The pints there were still €6.50, but that is better than €9 I guess. After a couple drinks we headed back to the hotel and turned in for what I can honestly describe as the most comfortable bed I have slept on since I left my own bed...

The next morning (around noon when we actually got up) we headed to the Lourve (basically next door) to take on the biggest session of power tourism I have under taken in a while. We marched staright to the Mona Lisa, had a look, took a pic (don't tell anyone...) and then headed for the Venus de Milo. After another pic of that, this time with Kelly grabbing a boob, we had a look at a couple of the other paintings and felt we had been cultured enough! Besides, you all know my stance on art galleries!

From the Lourve we headed towards Notre Dame. Thinking we had found the chapel, and with the 2nd last stage under way in the Tour, we found a pub and had a few drinks watching the last hour and a half of the time trials, where American Flyod Landis took the lead (convincingly) in the tour and basically decided the tour. We headed back to go inside the chapel, but it had shut... damn. As we walked away, we realised that we hadn't in fact seen the chapel of Notre Dame, but some other chapel! We walked over to Notre Dame and went inside... it was huge, much bigger from the inside than it looks from the outside. As we were about to leave, mass started:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KuZnVaAG9eo

It seemed like a good time to leave, especially as I am clearly not that religious... plus around Notre Dame there are heaps of restraunts and pubs, and the pubs had a €4 happy hour! We sat in a couple pubs from 6pm till 9pm, when happy hour finished, and made the most of the 'cheap' beers. From there we wandered up to a Greek restaurant and had an average meal, but at least I got to bust a plate on the way out the door!

We headed back towards the hotel again, and again stopped in at the Irish pub for a drink. With my american counterparts not really in the mood for any more drinks, we called it a night and headed back for another good nighst sleep.

LE TOUR FINALE DAY

We woke up 'reasonably' early and had a breakfast in the hotels restraunt - that was a bad move. €45 per person for breakfast for crossaints, an omelette and a glass of OJ. Damn. The new most expensive meal of the trip, don't think we'll try the dinner menu. We wandered around the back of Paris in the morning, looking for souvineers, but the palce had entirely shut down. A combination of the race and general Sunday closures resulted in a ghost town, so we headed back to the hotel to gear up for the race.

The company that Ray won the trip through had hired out a suite on the third floor, with balcony's overlooking the rue de Rivoli, and we were literally looking over the 1km to go banner. The tour would ride under us 8 times! Add to that the free champagne, and it was great that Ray managed to talk my way in! We sat around watching the last stage on TV, getting closer and closer to Paris. Before they arrived, a HUGE precession of advertising cars, floats, team busses, and anything else on wheels came rolling up the road, and we could spot the helicopters in the air following the race getting closer and closer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7kdEcR8e7xw

Finally they arrived, and then they were gone, and then back again, then gone again... you get the drift. They move just so fast. From our vantage point, we could see them come onto rue de Rivoli, just after the Lourve, after coming out of the tunnel. From there we could follow them up, under the banner, and all the way to the end of rue de Rivoli where it turns into Champs-Elysees. It was a fantastic vantage point (not to mention the view from the balcony), but they were moving incredibly quick:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-fL-5UhDBA

I had to cure my curiosity, and actually left the suite nad headed to the ground level, just to get a feel for what it was like down there. It was crowded, but not rediculosly as most people were up closer to the finish. Having thought it looked quick from above, it was incredible the pace that was being set from the groud. Everything, I mean everything, looked like a blur of colors:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9e5n0zu9MU

I headed back to the balcony and watched the last couple laps.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T9VbaSNMxoo

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0AX714mwbso

As they flew past us the 8th, and final time, the balconys cleared and we all ran inside to watch the TV to see who won the race. I was chearing my heart out for Robbie and Stuart, but The Neteherlands had the day and Thor Hushovd won the race, the Aussies coming 2nd and 3rd. Of course, Landis won the tour overall, another American to rain on the French parade (anyone but an American is what they are thinking, trust me...).

We left the suite and headed up the Champs-Elysees towards the finish line, and actually got to watch all of the riders do a lap of honor up to the Arc de Triomphe and back. That made for a few better photos, but we still couldn't get too close to the riders. After all of the parades had finished, we headed off for dinner and had a very low key night... apparently we missed invites to the riders parties!

The next morning we packed up and left for our departure points. Ray and Kelly to the airport for a flight home, and me to the train station for a train to London... little was I to know that the tickets would cost €225 one way... damn. Change of plans... I rang the bus company and arranged a ticket for an overnight bus for just €38... much more reasonable.

With all the time in the world to kill, I headed to the Eifel Tower hoping to be able to conquer the top. Again when I rocked up, the top floor was closed, too full. I decided to walk to the second deck, paying €3.80 rather than €7.10 for the elevator. Plus the queue was much shorter. I climbed to the first deck in the stifling heat, looked around, then mission to the second deck. Some of the information is incredible! Aparently the French wanted to get rid of the tower in 1909, ten years after completion, but kept it solely because it was a good place to put an antennae! It was also 'sold' to a scrap metal merchant at one point by a con man! To my surprise, when I got to the 2nd floor, there was a ticket counter for tickets to the top... sweet. It took just 15 minutes to get my ticket and get up to the top on the elevator. The views were incredible. You can see all of Paris, and just how big it is.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFGuj0q0iEA

When I finally got back to the ground floor I had killed over 2 hours and headed back to the hotel to pick up my bags, via the garden of the Lourve. I had hoped to get into the round about which the inverted glass pyramid is in the centre of, but the busses and fencing does an effective job of keeping people out.

I grabbed my bags and headed to the bus station. With time still to kill, I found a shopping centre and bought a pair of brown leather shoes on sale for my brown suit... sweet. Finally the bus came and I jumped on, for my 8 hour ride to London.

Thankfully the bus wan't too full, and I actually had two seats to myself. Bonus! The ride wasn't that smooth sailing though. Less than half an hour down the road, we are given a police escort for the best part of 5 minutes and escorted into a petrol station, teaming with police officers. The bus was searched thoroughly, I assume for drugs, as we had two sniffer dogs running about on the bus, and a couple running in and out of our bags underneath. In the end we lost an hour, and our 8 hour trip turned to 9... I finally arrived in London at 7am, and started my new life - from traveller to unemployed bum!

So, with the travelling over, here are some vital (or not so vital) stats...

*Actually lost 7.5kg during my tarvels... not bad, but it will probably all go on in a week in the London pub scene.

*Have listened to 3828 (up to Missy Elliot - Loose Control - in the alphabetical order that I am listening to songs) songs on my MP3 player, with 1900 still to go...

*Have had over 4400 hits on the webpage

*Most watched video is the Nude at Nordkapp which had 4381 hist in under 5 days, before getting banned for innappropriate content. The next closest is San Fermin Encierro 1, Video 3 which has had 386 hits to date.

*Pictures - 1063 pictures to date (those nice people at planetranger.com gave me an extra 1000 to play with - thanks) and many more still to come

Spending - Too Much! But I will break it down like this... (all in $AUD)

Pre-Europe (Singapore, Dubai, Egypt, Jordan)
Less than $60 a day, living like a king, and doing stuff like indoor skiing and water park in Dubai (doesn't include Scuba diving though).

Europe Pre-London (Greece and Turkey for Anzac)
Just over $80 a day, despite spending 5 days almost spending nothing when staying at Stef's. But the ferries and busses were pricey.

London Pre-Contiki
About $75 a day, and didn't pay a cent for accommodation and cooked most meals... ouch.

Contiki time
An extra $80 a day, on top of the actual cost of the trip... Ouch, but we did some crazy stuff (bobsledding etc.). Scandinavia is just too expensive!

Post Contiki (With Car)
Almost $110 a day - and i didn't even drink that much cos I had 2-can Sam with me... and we cooked sooo often... Whilst the car was useful, convenient and all other things, it was damn pricey to get places, fuel and tolls, and parking. On top of that was the money we spent before we left for the actual car hire, which would make it almost $130 a day. Having looked at that, my advice would be to book travel well in advance and stick to it - don't do the car. Use busses booked over 3 weeks in advance, and give yourself 3 nights in each location so you're not rushing to your next bus. Less stress for driving etc. plus I think it would be cheaper. Perhaps with a third in a car it would be better to drive, but not for two people.

Countries Visited:
Singapore, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Israel (in tarnsit - 1 hour taxi!), Jordan, Greece, Turkey, England, Denmark, Sweeden, Norway, Finland, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, Switzerand, The Netherlands, Italy, France, Monarco, and Spain. The cities I have visited are many more...

Okay, so this is the end of my travels, but not the end of my updates – trust me! There will be plenty of boring daily doings that go on the website, as well as all of the side trips that I plan to take before I head home, whenever that my be…

Stay tuned for my rants on London life, and hating the idea of looking for a job... hmmm, back to reality!